SMB makes it best-of-3 battle

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    WISE MOVE: SMB star June Mar Fajardo keeps the leather away from TNT’s Glenn Khobuntin. PBA PHOTO

    SAN Miguel Beer gave TNT a dose of its own fiery medicine to notch a 116-90 win yesterday and even their PBA Philippine Cup semifinals duel at the Don Honorio Ventura State University Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.

    Mo Tautuaa scored a game-high 25 points on top of nine rebounds and June Mar Fajardo stretched his tournament-leading double-doubles to 12 with 13 points and 12 as the Beermen paid back in kind the Tropang Giga’s wire-to-wire 115-98 win last Friday.

    With the protagonists now having two wins apiece, the best-of-seven series has been reduced to a best-of-three affair starting this Wednesday.

    SMB coach Leo Austria said the Game 3 drubbing and the specter of falling into a 1-3 hole helped spur his players to bring their A-game for the match.

    “Our loss in the third game was really embarrassing for us,” he said. “We realized that there’s no tomorrow. If we had lost again, I think it would be very hard to recover, especially against a very organized, very disciplined and well-coached team like TNT.”

    It was indeed quite a turnaround for SMB, which was thrown off-kilter by TNT’s hot start in Game 3, falling behind by as many as 27 points.

    This time around, it was the Beermen who came out spewing fire, while also playing what Austria called “hard defense,” to post as much as an 81-44 lead, the duel’s biggest so far.

    Helping along SMB was the fact Roger Pogoy, who went into the game averaging 23.3 points in the series, missed his first eight shots before ultimately finishing with just two points on 1-of-10 shooting.

    Poy Erram, the Tropang Giga’s lynchpin on defense, also picked up three fouls right in the first quarter and even had to leave the game for good after banging his head on the floor when Tautuaa fell on top of him with 8:29 left in the second quarter. He was rushed to a nearby hospital and would be under the league’s concussion protocol.

    The other key TNT frontliner, Troy Rosario, also could not get his game really going after getting called for his fourth foul at the 5:30 mark of the second period. He finished with 10 points and six boards.

    Jayson Castro took it upon himself to lead the Tropa’s scoring chores, but he could only manage 15.

    Defense also clicked for SMB as it forced TNT to a 31-of-84 field shooting as well as 18 turnovers, which the Beermen translated into 22 points.

    Also definitely more balanced was SMB’s production, which had five other Beermen scoring in double figures. Chris Ross, the only other Beermen starter, managed only seven points but issued a game-high nine assists while anchoring the defense on TNT’s Mikey Williams, limiting the usually explosive rookie to just 11 points.

    “It’s all about playing as a team,” said Tautuaa, who really set the tone for SMB while setting up his highest scoring game of the conference.

    The burly Fil-Tongan already had 19 points on just seven shots and not even 12 minutes in the first half as he chiefly led the way in the Beermen’s surge to a 24-16 lead which they stretched to 57-32 at halftime.